Full Scope: Analyze Tank Contents to Develop a Cleaning Strategy

Tank floors are a key component for inspection in a broad range of industries and applications. While there are a number of ways a tank can fail, the inaccessibility of the “soil side” of a tank floor presents some unique challenges. If a tank floor leaks prematurely, it could result in costly remediation, lost revenue, and substantial unanticipated repair costs.

However, prior to inspection, tanks need to be thoroughly cleaned to ensure prime conditions for maximum and accurate data collection. Ultimately, this allows the asset owner to fully understand the tank’s health.

This is especially the case regarding the transport and storage of feedstocks, such as crude oil. 

In the first episode of Route to Reliability, I sat down with Frank Cabor, the Director of Operations at TankScope, and a veteran of the tank cleaning industry. TankScope offers unique solutions to help asset owners manage and anticipate the substantial investment around this critical activity.

Below are excerpts from the podcast.



So I want you to summarize what service TankScope provides and what makes you unique in the market?


When a tank cleaning project is up for renewal or is due, we provide live, actionable data to the stakeholder and the cleaning vendor, respectively. What that entails is thermography on the shell side and topography through the access points of the roof. The more access points we have on the roof the better, because we go through the EFR or if it's a fixed roof with an IFR, we have the capability to do that as well.

What we do is density measurements, viscosity measurements, particle distribution, temperature, core sampling, essentially providing the owner all that is required to make an informed cleaning decision.


Wow, that seems like a lot more data than most of our audience might be familiar with when they approach these costs.


Yeah. The shell thermography is good, but it only gives you the shell, it doesn't tell you what's going on in the middle of the tank or anywhere around the tank that’s not directly beside the shell. We provide the client with a far more in-depth look at what is actually occurring inside the tank from a stratification standpoint, as well.

Perhaps the client came across recoverable oil that they didn't foresee. But they can’t flag it in their system as they have forecasted six feet of sludge.


Take us a step further here, what kind of actions can they take once they have a profile?


We just successfully completed two tank profiling projects that are a good example.

The tank owner typically awards the cleaning projects to the vendor, based on records from previous inspections. In this case, the client decided to have us come onsite and actually profile the tank contents with our service, and use our findings as opposed to the historical data.

Based on past cleaning data, the anticipated cleaning budgets provided for each tank were over a million dollars. There was a lot of room for the owner to tighten their budget, and prevent unnecessary expenses with an accurate, quantifiable assessment of the solids. 

So once we provided our full scope of services on those two tanks, we established that there wasn't nearly the product solids they anticipated in either tank, and the scope of work could be substantially reduced. At the end of the day, there was a “data based” re-quote by the cleaning vendor, and a significant savings for the owner. The budget for each tank, initially over $1 million per tank, dropped significantly to around $450k each.


Oh, that's fantastic. It must be nice to give good news. Especially six or seven digit good news.

Folks that aren't too familiar with tank cleaning projects, the costs can be substantial! I’m sure you've seen some big ones, ‘cause I believe you’re from the tank cleaning industry?


Yeah, my team and I have been in the tank cleaning industry for most of our careers. Our combined experience is over 50 plus years, for sure. My experience alone is pushing 15 years so there isn't much that we haven't come across. 

Some of the hurdles that we have seen before starting TankScope, being a tank cleaner by trade, the request for proposal (RFP) was always provided from assumptions or historical data.

And we all know that isn't indicative of what is actually occurring in the tank today. 

Quick example, we had an RFP to clean a tank that was 180 foot diameter, assuming six inches of “engine oil” consistency. So as a cleaning vendor, you base your bid on that assumption and you gear up and equip for that scope.

You go onto the site with a set scope but when you crack open the manway, you now realize that it's not even close to six inches of internal consistency. It's actually six feet of sloped ‘asphalt’ turning the budget from $300k to $1.2 million.


Was that just the extra costs for the increased scope of work, or the amount of time dedicated to the opportunity cost of having the tank down longer? 


All of it. Something you have to think about is that it’s beneficial from the  owner/stakeholder standpoint, but it's also advantageous to the vendors. Now they have a clear, transparent path forward on how to treat the components and anticipate the composition of the product within the tank.

So instead of the stakeholder seeing five different bids with five different processes and five different schedules and five different budgets. They can now actually hold the cleaning vendors accountable to the lump sum bid and all the processes should be the same.


Well, that's fantastic. A little bit of standardization can go a long way for sure. 

You mentioned a few mistakes there, a few high-profile, underestimations of the challenge, shall we say? And of course we talked about the resulting domino effect regarding your opportunity costs for having the tank out of service, and having to reschedule all the maintenance and inspection teams that are going to follow you up eventually.

Do you have any other good stories or “gotcha” moments from where this has gone wrong or where a little bit of forewarning would've prepared the client?


It's not much of a gotcha moment. It's more of a “wow,” we didn't realize we had this issue.

While performing our services on a tank we got onto the roof of this one EFR and all the legs were permanently fixed in the maintenance position. The client didn't know that because of course, they go off historical drawings. By “historical,” I’m referring to 18 years old drawings that are not “as-builts,” and don’t reflect the conditions actually present. 

Exacerbating the issue, there's a lot of turnover and with that turnover comes the sifting through of information, or lack thereof.

So you're often essentially walking blind. We provide clarity and a clear path forward.


You've been in the industry for awhile, so what kind of trends have you seen? I'm sure you've experienced growth in the Canadian market.


Yeah, the growth that I've seen from a vendor standpoint is adopting new technologies. There's certain processes that will never go away because of their success in cleaning. 

Now you're seeing additional companies arise with new technologies and they’re engaging the client with these tools.

We are seeing new systems for accountability and “running lean." There's project processes in place and we adhere to and compliment them. Gone are the days when you would just say, “ it's time to clean, so let's just throw money at it, call it $500k. Oh, it's going to be closer to $1.8m?”


Now, the market. If people start realizing the value of this pre-inspection, what do you think that's going to do for you over the next 10 years?


Right now, because of COVID, stakeholders and cleaning vendors want to see clarity and transparency. With the information that we provide, there's a high potential for deferral work for API internal inspections. 

By performing a number of inspections and evaluations on the front end, there's a potential that an internal/external tank project can be deferred, creating massive, short-term cost savings. That's essentially the pulse I've had lately. 


Oh yeah, we've seen COVID really accelerate development in a lot of different areas despite the hurt it’s put on the oil and gas industry. And I'm sure that tank deferrals like you're talking about, where you can defer some of these costs into the future behind some good engineering. I'm sure there's quite a demand for that right now. 


If you enjoyed these excerpts, listen to the full interview with Frank on the Route to Reliability Podcast! Whether you’re in the office, at home or commuting, you can listen to fresh ideas that address some of your biggest reliability challenges. 

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